IF YOU THINK Nikki Haley has done a great job as governor, you should vote for her next month.
What you shouldn’t do is vote for her because you think Vincent Sheheen isn’t up to the job, or wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything with a Republican Legislature or, conversely, that what he would accomplish would be to raise your taxes and grow our government.
Sen. Sheheen’s 14-year track record demonstrates just the opposite.
This is not someone who has tried to raise our taxes: The big tax-overhaul legislation that he proposed — in several iterations and always with at least one conservative Republican as a co-sponsor — was always revenue-neutral. That is, its purpose wasn’t to raise taxes, or to lower them, but to reform them, to turn our tax system into one that isn’t full of crazy loopholes that are bigger than the whole and that promotes our shared goals, rather than undermining them.
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This is not someone who has proposed burdensome regulations. In fact, proposing regulations of any sort has not been a Sheheen priority. His priority has been on making the mechanisms of government work better, so that whatever the Legislature agrees the government should do, it does well, and it does efficiently, and it does in an accountable way.
As for his ability to work with the Republican Legislature, simply consider the 2014 legislative session. This was a year when the governor’s race was in full swing, when you would expect the Republican troops who dominate the General Assembly to rally around their governor and fight off anything that Mr. Sheheen might be able to use in his campaign to unseat her.
Instead, Mr. Sheheen compiled one of the most successful records of any legislator this year, passing several important bills that you’d be hard-pressed to call liberal — or conservative, for that matter.
Topping the list was the bill the Legislature finally passed this year to abolish the Budget and Control Board. Readers of this column should be more than familiar with that by now, as it’s part of a larger something that our editorial board has been trying to do since before I joined our editorial board 15 years ago. Our goal — one shared by every Republican governor going back to Carroll Campbell — was to give S.C. governors the same basic powers that governors in the other 49 states have.
It took Sen. Sheheen to recognize that the Legislature simply was not going to go along with this, no matter how reasonable and rational it was, no matter how many things happened that demonstrated the need, unless legislators saw something in it for themselves.
It took Sen. Sheheen to flip the debate on its head, arguing that the problem isn’t just that governors don’t have the power they should; it’s that the Legislature doesn’t either. He proposed to give the Legislature the tools to delve into what state agencies are doing and how well they’re doing it, so it can hold governors accountable and also make appropriate changes in state law and agency missions.
Gov. Haley worked for Sen. Sheheen’s bill, as did several Republican legislative partners. But it was Sen. Sheheen’s idea and Sen. Sheheen’s plan. And to the extent that legislators opposed it for reasons that were not purely about their own power, it was because Gov. Haley supported it — not because it was Sen. Sheheen’s baby.
Sen. Sheheen also was the driving force behind more than doubling the number of children in 4-year-old kindergarten, which a state judge ordered the Legislature to expand nearly a decade ago to remedy our failure to provide poor children in poor school districts with a decent shot at getting a decent education. This speaks even more to his ability to work past partisanship, because it was not advocated by the governor, and Republicans in the House didn’t even pretend to support it.
It’s also worth noting that Sen. Sheheen’s two-year effort increased spending on the program by $46 million — without raising taxes, but by making the expansion a priority for the small amount of normal revenue growth that came in.
Sen. Sheheen’s other important bill that became law this year bans texting while driving, which seems like the most obvious thing in the world to do but which the Legislature had absolutely refused to do year after year, until we became one of just four states with no restrictions on this insanely dangerous practice. Passing this bill involved a bit of legislative sleight-of-hand, which was way too complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that Sen. Sheheen and his Republican co-sponsors beat the tiny band of opponents at their own parliamentary games and prevented them from blocking a bill that the overwhelming majority of senators and representatives supported.
There are more legislators than I can count — and then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among them — who don’t get a single significant bill passed in their entire legislative career. To pass three in a single year, all of which will help our state well, that’s practically unheard of, even for the Legislature’s most powerful Republican leaders.